Friday, August 19, 2011

Behind Closed Doors: A Quarantined Story by Michael Moreci

*The following is taken from the notes of journalist Edward Walker
The doors to the furniture warehouse were not only locked, but they had been chained from the outside. I approached with extreme caution when I heard them banging—it was the slamming sound I heard first, not the screams. I figured there was infected within, pounding to get out, though I proceeded nonetheless, disregarding my judgment. It would have been better had I chose to stay away, assumed the worst, and kept moving. Because what I encountered within gave new meaning to what the worst could be.
I parked a good twenty yards away, thinking I could reach the doors undetected. Every banging caused me to jump, as if it was an unexpected sound bursting through an otherwise normal, peaceful night. It wasn’t until I got closer that I heard the screams—the articulated yells, cries for help. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past sixty hours, it’s that the infected have no control over language. They don’t communicate in any way I could see, and they certainly don’t plead to be saved.
Still, I was hesitant to make my presence known. There was a scaffold running alongside the building that allowed a view inside, through the windows that ran along the very top of the wall. I scaled the scaffold, my chest pounding; I hoped there were people within, but I feared it as well. My means of survival—alone, always on the move—had become, to me, a vital routine, and I trembled at the thought of interrupting it.
But then I saw. Through the smoky glass, I looked down to the source of the relentless, desperate, pounding, a pounding that had become so intense it was bound to shatter the hands and feet of those causing it. It was a group of teenagers, maybe fifteen of them, and they were trapped.
The chain around the door, I assumed, must have been a precautionary measure taken by the warehouse owner—an extra bit of protection in a time of chaos. At least, that’s what I hoped was the case, that people were being locked out, not in. As I approached the doors, instinct still told me to turn away, to run and not look back. The struggle between conscience and survival instinct is a contentious one; I’ve learned there’s no telling what a person will do when backed against a wall.
I fought the urge to flee and approached the doors.
“Hey,” I yelled, “you okay in there?”
The response was a unified burst of elation and ecstatic relief. One of the kids from the group, a stocky defensive linesman type who had been pounding the door, spoke above the cacophony.
“Get us out of here! We’ve been trapped inside for like three days. None of our cell phones work; we have no idea what’s happening.”
As much as I wanted to race off into the night with the singular task of rescuing this imprisoned lot, there was still a lingering something. A hesitation that, despite my best motivations, held me back from doing the noble thing without question.
“How did you get locked in there? I mean, why are you guys in a furniture warehouse to begin with?” I asked.
“What? We, um…”
In that moment of hesitation, my mind told me to run. It convinced me this was a trap, an elaborate set-up that I was playing directly into. As I backed away, the kid on the other side of the door must have felt me receding, because his next words rushed out of his mouth.
“We broke in, okay? We broke in three nights ago to party. That’s all we did. And when we went to leave, all the doors were, like, bolted shut.”
I was silent, weighing my options—help or turn away.
“Hello?” the kid called out, almost pleading. “Please, you have to get us out. We’re starving, we’re thirsty; we just want to go home.”
The word, the idea of ‘home,’ made me flinch—these kids had no idea, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them. Not yet.
“Look, I need to go get some bolt cutters,” I said. “All of you sit tight; I’ll be back soon.”
“No!” a girl yelled from within. “Don’t—don’t leave us!”
“Listen,” I said, trying to buttress the group’s frayed nerves, “I’m coming back. Stay calm and stop pounding on the door—you don’t want attract any attention.”
“What does that mean?” the kid, the leader, asked.
I stammered. “Nothing. Just…keep it down.”
As I turned away, the kid called out one more time. “Hey!” he said. “You don’t happen to have any matches or a lighter or something, do you? Something you can slide under the door?”
I wasn’t thinking—my mind was too focused on my already building sense that, somehow, I betrayed myself. Helping these kids was a mistake, going out into the night to find bolt cutters a complete lack of better judgment. And for that, I was going to pay. I was busy silencing these ugly doubts as I slipped a half-used book of matches underneath the door, never considering what they’d be used for.
The thumping had grown louder. I carried a rhythmic pulse in my mind the entire trip to the abandoned farmhouse—looted for the needed tools—and back. It was a knocking, a call, a temptation; only this temptation wasn’t to enter, it was to leave. Thoom thoom thoom it went, a tell-tale heart in reverse. Not revealing what I’d done, but pushing me to what I was capable of doing—abandoning people in need, placing my survival above anyone else.
The actual sound coming from within the warehouse was different from before—it was a drilling, violent thud, louder, and more forceful.
I parked closer this time, and left the keys in the ignition.
“Hey,” I called out, standing five feet away from the door, which shook beneath every blow. “You kids in there?”
No one answered.
I took a step back even my feet were beginning to feel numb; I took in a deep breath and felt it quiver in my chest. Something, I knew, had gone terribly wrong behind that door. Everything become quiet, the thumping subdued as the world began to dim—and that’s when I heard. Heard the sound of water sprinkling of glass. I looked up and saw droplets raining onto the warehouse windows.
It immediately came to me: the matches were used to set off the sprinkler system, which in turn drenched the virus on the entire group.
Something took hold of me—fear, real, palatable fear clouded my thoughts. I climbed up the scaffold, trying to get a look inside. What I was looking for, I couldn’t say—there was no way I would ever open those doors, yet I was compelled to see inside nonetheless.
Not everyone had turned yet—two remained—a boy and a girl, a couple I assumed—two who evidently didn’t use the sprinkler system to quench their thirst. They were surrounded, backs against the wall. The last thing I saw were their hands joined together, fingers interlaced.
Quarantined is copyright Michael Moreci, Monty Borror, and Markosia Publications


  1. There's bleak and there's horrible and there's hopelessness and there's grim and then . . . there's this. Leaves you wanting something to grant a surcease, a relief but you just can't argue with the cold equations (another tale of hopelessness and hard-edged tragedy) the merciless geometry, of contagion and the shattered residue of its awful touch. Tear making, Michael, plain out tear making. Cool.

  2. Thanks for the great feedback, AJ. I don't think I could've asked for a better response--bleak is where I like to be! (Well, in my writing, at least.)